12 December is officially Gingerbread House Day. Let’s look at how this sugary architectural project became such a popular holiday tradition in Europe and then the rest of the world.
Gingerbread House Day
The gingerbread house is a holiday tradition that brings together families for a fun time of baking. The tasty and decorative abodes have become synonymous with the holiday season. Gingerbread houses have combined all the fun activities you could hope for; and in the end, you’re left with a sweet treat too. So, how did this tradition of constructing gingerbread houses from bread even come about? And how did it become entwined with the holiday season? To answer these questions, we’ll have to look into the past and discover the roots of gingerbread house day.
Origins of the Gingerbread House
Ginger has been incorporated in food and drinks since time immemorial. The root has a distinct strong flavor; and with its proven health benefits, it has attained a respectable status in the realm of herbs and spices. People figured out its unique qualities a long time ago and reports show that the root was used in ancient times, as far back as 5000 years ago. It is widely accepted that the spiced bread was brought to Europe from the Middle East by crusaders in the 11th century. At the time, ginger in bread was used simply as a kind of preservative. Later in the 15th and 16thcentury, people began shaping gingerbread and baked it into biscuits that looked like simple or cartoonish humans and animals. Preservatives never tasted so good, as people began incorporating ginger into their bread for flavor and never looked back.
The art of gingerbread baking became an acknowledged profession and bakers started experimenting even more and gradually got more ambitious with their projects. In the 17th century, only professionals were allowed to bake gingerbread… Christmas and Easter were exceptions, though, occasions when everyone could indulge in the craft.
Gingerbread baked into various shapes and silhouettes, such as hearts, trees, animals, people, and other symbols, were sold in seasonal stores on special occasions and were a big hit. These decorative snacks were on their way to cementing themselves as an honored tradition in many western countries.
Enter the Gingerbread House
This tradition gained traction in the 1800s in Germany. Many sources claim that the traditions of constructing the sugary houses started due to the Brothers Grimm’s popular children’s story: Hensel and Gretel, which involves a young brother and sister duo who, at some point in the story, enter a gingerbread house where a woman tries to eat them. Though the story was published in the 19th century and helped popularize gingerbread baking around the world, it is not responsible for starting the tradition. The tale of young children fending for themselves is speculated to be much older. This is because during the 14th-century famine, parents in Europe would send their kids out to survive on their own. By the time Hensel and Gretel was published, gingerbread houses had already become a solid tradition in most of Europe.
Ready to Celebrate Gingerbread House Day?
Today, gingerbread houses, figures and cool-shaped ginger biscuits bring families together during the holiday season. There are cooking shows dedicated to the art of gingerbread house making that show you how to make your own from scratch. For those who have little faith in their baking skills or are pressed for time, companies bring forth gingerbread house kits. With these, all you have to do is assemble the pieces and decorate the house. The possibilities for decoration make this a super fun activity for kids. They can get creative with candies, piping bags, icing, chocolate and whatever else they desire.
Many places take their gingerbread houses very seriously and go all out for Gingerbread Day. You’ll understand what I mean when you feast your eyes on the huge gingerbread house at Madison Square Park in New York City. The massive tasty treat is part of a free attraction by Taste of Home magazine for their 5thannual gingerbread boulevard. The celebrations kicked off on 6 December and will continue through 19 December. So, if you’re going to be in town, be sure to visit!